For the second consecutive series, the Devils have been blown out in the first two games. What will it take to pull off another comeback?
The Hurricanes have flat out dominated the Devils for two games. No other way to say it, no way to get around it. The first period of game one was so bad that the Devils were only able to get one shot on goal. It hasn’t gotten a whole better since then as the Devils have been out scored 11-2 and physically bullied for the entirety of the first two games. Not only is Carolina laying out some crushing hits, when the Devils have the puck, but they are outworking the Devils as they win almost every loose puck.
The Devils just have no answer for the Canes physicality right now. Even when the Devils try to take the body, the Hurricanes basically just run right through them. Not only is this leading to Carolina goals like the one shown above, but it a big part of what is preventing the Devils from getting their own offense going. The Devils aren’t able to use their speed to create really any offense because Carolina is slowing the Devils down by separating the Devils from the puck, winning all of the battles for loose pucks, and not turning the puck over. So far, the Devils have not been anywhere near strong enough to withstand the Canes forecheck or to put pressure on Carolina. As a result, the Devils have had few chances, even fewer goals, and zero wins.
Me saying the Devils are getting out battled and need to be tougher is far from breaking news. The captain said it himself in his post game interview. They got out battled. The Devils players themselves know that their skill is not enough against a skilled AND tough team like Carolina. Speaking of captain Nico Hischier though, he and the Devils other offensive stars need to step up their own play in a big way for the Devils to have any chance of coming back. So far in nine payoff games, Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Timo Meier have combined for one goal. That one goal was an empty net goal from Bratt at the end of game seven against the Rangers. This is the playoffs and the Devils need their best players to start leading the way. When you have Michael McLeod and Nate Bastian each contributing more offense than Timo Meier and Nico Hischier combined, you have a massive problem.
What can the Devils do to try and get back in this series? Well, I wouldn’t be opposed to a few lineup changes. Starting in goal, I think its time to give Vanecek another start. Schmid has looked ok at best, and sometimes overwhelmed, in the last two games, far from the super human he appeared to be for long stretches of the Ranger series. The fact the Devils have replaced Schmid with Vanecek in two consecutive blowout losses makes me think a Vitek start is coming in game three. Hey, changing goalies changed the momentum after two blowouts in the last series, so why not try it again?
As far as skaters go, inserting Luke Hughes into the lineup could be helpful. Now, I know I just said the Devils aren’t physical enough so adding another finesse player like Luke Hughes into the lineup doesn’t seem to add up. However, one issue the Devils are having is that Carolina is all over New Jersey anytime the Devils have the puck so adding a skilled playmaker like L. Hughes to the back end could help the Devils break out smoother, move the puck around the offensive zone quicker, and just control the puck for longer throughout the game. I think they could find room for Luke by sending Ryan Graves to the press box. Graves is bigger and more physical than Luke is but he hasn’t made much of a difference in this series so far so we might as well see if Luke’s style of play could help the Devils swing the momentum in their favor.
Things don’t look good after two games, but this team has shown incredible resiliency in the very recent past so I think it’s too early to count them out just yet. My original prediction of Devils in 5 is now impossible so how about Devils in seven again?